Writing was the emphasis at Perrysburg Junior High last week as children's book author Alan St. Jean spent three days with the students teaching them about the creative process and putting them through literary drills.
Mr. St. Jean wrote the Aiden of Oren trilogy, a coming of age series about a 13-year-old boy in an epic adventure that has been compared to the work of J.R.R. Tolkien.
The sixth, seventh, and eighth graders worked with him up close and personal, and received plenty of feedback on their own creative writing exercises.
Not that these were deadly serious sessions. In his workshops, the genial Mr. St. Jean repeatedly stressed the importance of humor. In one, he ran a group of sixth graders through a writing exercise about a fictional Pippie the Pig, instructing them to bear in mind character development, plot, and conflict.
The students were divided into subgroups. Each one wrote a sentence, then passed the piece of paper to a classmate who wrote the next sentence, and so on.
The results demonstrated a lot of fertile imaginations:
"Pippie went to Wal-Mart to buy a ham for dinner. He also picked up some bacon for breakfast. He always wears a Spandex jumpsuit when he goes to Wal-Mart "
"One day Pippie the Pig was picking his nose with his toes. You see, Pippie was a gender-confused pig "
"One day, Pippie the Pig was looking at a haunted house. Pippie decided to go into the haunted house, and there Pippie saw some Hostess cupcakes in the house "
"One day Pippie the Pig was in her hot pink Jeep "
Afterward, the budding novelists and short story writers proclaimed themselves happy with what they had accomplished. The workshop, they said, had been more than worthwhile.
"I think it was really creative and unusual," explained Morgan Coutcher. "I think it makes you think about the impossible."
"It was really fun. It helped my writing and my imagination," said Jessie Counterman.
"It definitely helped my writing," Kelly Printy said. "Laughter is good for the soul. It helps a lot with your writing skills. It makes you love reading."
"It helped me be more creative," said Mary Musgrove. "You start laughing and you get more and more ideas."
Eighth grade English teacher Sandy Custer said the junior high has been giving increased emphasis to writing this year. "This is part of that focus," she explained.
Mr. St. Jean, 45, lives in Battle Creek, Mich., but grew up in central Ohio and graduated from Ohio State University. His $1,500 fee was paid from the school's special assembly fund.
He was in business until he was 40, when he wrote The Journey Begins, the first volume of his trilogy.
A publisher, Moo Press Inc. of Warwick, N.Y., bought the manuscript immediately in 2004, and Mr. St. Jean followed up with The Elf Princess and The Valley of the Dragon in quick succession.
He has visited schools in New York, Wisconsin, Texas, and California.
The school visits began as a marketing tactic on the part of his publisher and have evolved into a second line of work for him as he works on a picture book with the working title The Day Dreams.
He is at ease with large groups of children now, but this wasn't always the case, he said.
"The first time I did this I was nervous and sweaty. I thought I'd never be any good at it. But the more you do something, the better you get. I tell the kids that this holds for writing too," Mr. St. John said.